Tyner's boys are a different basketball team with Trey Suttles in the lineup. And when Sadik Spence plays like he did Tuesday at East Ridge.
The Rams, who came into the Region 3-AA tournament the fourth-seeded team from District 6, earned their way into Thursday's championship game against Howard by defeating tournament host East Ridge 59-45.
Suttles, who had a right knee injury that had kept him out 10 games, three of them losses, rejoined the Rams (23-7) in their quarterfinal victory over District 5's top-seeded team, Polk County. He entered in the second quarter that game.
On Tuesday he started and, with the exception of wearing a knee brace, looked almost like his old self.
"He makes a big difference, just in presence alone," Tyner coach Gerald Harris said. "He's not even 100 percent. He's going at 75 percent. But his basketball IQ is so high, I'd rather have him in there at 75 percent than a lot of other people."
Suttles totaled 15 points, but East Ridge coach Jon Goddard was most impressed by his work denying entry at the front of the Rams' full-court press and getting his hands in passing lanes.
"That was just great effort right there," said Goddard, who questioned whether all the Pioneers were emotionally ready.
"We kind of noticed that before the game," he said. "Obviously we all knew the implications that were involved."
The Pioneers (22-11) trailed from the moment Spence made a 3-point shot 15 seconds into the game. His short jumper from left of the lane made it 5-0, and he scored 22 points. Harris correlated his sophomore guard's scoring inconsistency on the year with youth.
"When he makes his first two or three," Harris said, "it's going to be a good game."
Alfonzo Cox's 11 points led East Ridge. Greg Besley contributed 10.
"Tyner did a real good job defensively," Goddard said. "I can't take that away. We did get some great open looks at the basket, but we didn't knock them down at all."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.